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The Full Phil

Mickelson on majors, money, trick shots, and what it'll take to take on Tiger.

Phil Mickelson

'I certainly don't play golf to live.'

Photo: Jim Moriarty

January 2001

Few defining moments in golf are more vivid than the one pinned on Phil Mickelson, whose heartbreaking loss to Payne Stewart at the 1999 U.S. Open belies a career etched in success (17 PGA Tour victories, almost $14 million in earnings) but who remains haunted by the absence of a major championship. That Mickelson's first child was born 18 hours after his most agonizing defeat is more than just a case of prickly fate. Despite the thorns, his life is still a rose garden.

At age 30, Mickelson reaches his prime on the short list of those capable of challenging Tiger Woods' extraordinary dominance. Blessed with enormous length and perhaps the best short game in golf, Mickelson rebounded from a winless 1999 to win three times in a 3 ½-month stretch.

He also failed for the ninth consecutive season to win a major, a streak few would have thought possible when Mickelson jumped directly from Arizona State to the tour in June 1992. A four-time All-American and winner of the U.S. Amateur and NCAA Championship, Mickelson remains the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event (the 1991 Northern Telecom Open), leading some to believe success comes almost too easily to him.

Mickelson met with Golf Digest Senior Writer John Hawkins in October in Las Vegas to discuss his standing as one of the game's most talented and enigmatic players, his wide variety of off-course interests — and the pursuit of greatness in Woods' immense shadow.

The Mickelson file
Born: June 16, 1970, in San Diego
Residence: Scottsdale
Height, weight: 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
Family: Wife, Amy; Amanda (1)
College: Arizona State
Turned professional: 1992

PGA Tour victories: 17 1991--Northern Telecom Open
1993--Buick Invitational, The International
1994--Mercedes Championship
1995--Northern Telecom Open
1996--Nortel Open, Phoenix Open, GTE Byron Nelson Classic, NEC World Series of Golf
1997--Bay Hill Invitational, Sprint International
1998--Mercedes Championship, AT&T Pebble Beach
2000--Buick Invitational, BellSouth Cl., MasterCard Colonial, Tour Championship
Other: 1990 U.S. Amateur Championship; 1990 NCAA Championship

National teams and records:
Presidents Cup: 1994--2-1-2; 1996--1-2-1; 1998--0-2-2; 2000--3-2-0. Total--6-7-5.
Ryder Cup: 1995--3-0-0; 1997--1-1-2; 1999--2-2-0. Total--6-3-2.
Dunhill Cup: 1996--3-2.
Walker Cup: 1989--1-1-2; 1991--3-1-0. Total--4-2-2.

Golf Digest: There's a segment on The Golf Channel where you're hitting flop shots over Dave Pelz. He's like 6-foot-5, and he's standing right in front of you. How many of those swings would it take before you hit one thin and ended the man's career?

Mickelson: I'm certainly careful when I do that. He was three feet in front of me and he didn't flinch — I was pretty impressed by that. I was watching the replay from a side angle, and the coolest thing about it is that the ball was above his head before it was even halfway there. It's a fun shot.

I really enjoy some of those trick shots. I enjoy creating little shots around the green, because I grew up with a chipping green in my backyard and spent a lot of time there. The great thing about practicing your chipping is that you've got the result right there, not 250 or 300 yards away. You can pick up your ball and do it again real quick.

In Tucson maybe seven or eight years ago, I remember watching you skip a ball off a lake and onto the green. Is that the most amazing shot you've ever hit in competition?

To me, that wasn't an amazing shot. A little risky, maybe, but not amazing — the way it set up, it wasn't very difficult. When I think of amazing shots, I immediately go back to tournaments I've won. The most memorable shot is the eight-foot putt I made to win at Tucson as an amateur (in 1991), just because winning as an amateur is such an oddity. Scott Verplank had won the Western Open six years earlier, but it's been done only twice, and it's very difficult to do. Very unexpected.

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